Friday, June 13, 2008


The idea of a posting about hedgerows may seem a little odd but after listening to my husbands constant amazement about them, it sowed the seeds of the idea. Apparently to many people a hedge is a row of brushy type plants, but not in Cornwall! In Cornwall a hedge is a structure made from lumps of granite, usually ones that have been lifted out of a field in order to make the ground easier to work, then stacked to form a wind break at the edge of the field. Over time numerous species of native plants take a hold in all the little nooks and crannies between the rocks and as time goes on the rocky structure is obscured by a deceptively soft looking blanket of flowers. But don't be fooled by the colourful exterior - this structure still has a heart of stone! As many motorists find when they brush a little too hard against one! These hedgerows are a microcosom of life and I have tried to get a few pictures of some of the beautiful wild flowers that can be found living in them.

One plant that is quick to establish, is the aptly named, Thrift Armeria maritima maritima. It is not named Thrift because of any monetary connection but because of its ability to flourish in infertile conditions. This beautiful pink blossom is synonymous with cliff walks for me because as well as decorating Cornish hedgerows it is commonly found clinging stubbornly to the tops of cliffs! Unusually, through the ages, this plant has never really been found to have any major uses. However when dried it will keep its colour and so it is commonly used in flower arranging.

Another plant that is commonly seen nestled amongst the rocks in hedges is the Navelwort or Wall Pennywort Umbilicus rupestris. These somewhat bizzare names refer in various ways to the leaves. Pennywort because the size of the leaf was thought to be the size of an old English penny and Navelwort because the centre of the leaf looks rather like a belly button! This fleshy little plant is distibuted abundantly throughout western England and Wales. It is easy to miss when it is not flowering because often it will only show two or three little round leaves in a shady, moist spot in a hedge but as soon as the spike of green bell shaped flowers appear it becomes much more obvious.

An invasive species that has happily adapted to life amongst Cornish granite is the Hottentot Fig Carpobrotus edulis. It originaly was found in Africa where the Hottentot tribes people would eat the big fleshy fruit. But as with so many species, it was introduced by someone who thought it looked nice and now has taken a strong hold and flourishes throughout Cornwall in hedges and on cliffsides.

Valerian is another introduced species that is very happily established in Cornish hedgerows.
Red Valerian Centranthus ruber was introduced from the Mediterranean in the sixteenth century. As you can see from this photo, there is also a white flowered form of this species. Red Valerian is not to be confused with true Valerian which has many medicinal properties, however its young leaves can be used in green salads although it is recommended to boil the leaves because they
have a bitter taste.

A favorite plant of mine is the diminuitive Scarlet Pimpernel Anagallis arvensis. The name too is synonymous with the french revolution as it was the undercover name adopted by Sir Percy Blakeney in Baroness Orczy's novel. The flowers contain no nectar or scent and so are rarely visited by insects. It was once belived to be a cure for madness and to cure melancholy. This tiny flower is always a jewel to find nestled in a hedge. Occasionaly pink, white or even blue colour variations can be seen.

Common Restharrow Ononis repens is so called because its roots and matted stems are so strong that in the time of horsedrawn harrows it had the ability to tangle in and stop the harrow! Something tells me that in this mechanised age it may not be quite so effective! However when found twisting its way into a Cornish hedge it is very pretty. The root is supposed to taste good if chewed hence the plants alternative common name, wild liquorice.

A common hedgerow flower, the Red Campion Silene dioica is particularly profuse in Cornwall this year. Every hedge is a wild pallete of pinks with a combination of campions and foxgloves. Each Red Campion plant has flowers of one sex only, so two plants are needed to make seed. The Red Campion does hybridise with White Campion and the resulting plant is fertile and so capable of rehybridising with either Red or White Campion so there realy are an endless array of pinks to be seen with this plant. The scientific name comes from the greek god Silenus who was a merry drunken soul who was the life and soul, in much the same way this vibrant plant is sure to brighten any area that it grows in.

The Mallow family is so huge that I am not going to trust myself to accurately identify which one this is but its stunning purple blossoms were too beautiful not to be included in the posting. Hollyhocks, hibiscus and the cotton plant all belong in the same family. I think this is the Common Mallow Malva sylvestris but don't quote me on that! The young shoots have been used as a vegetable for centuries. A slightly more dubious property of mallow is its reputation as an anti-aphrodisiac! It was thought to promote calm, sober conduct.

The Speedwell group of flowers is another large group, all of which are rather similar and I do not trust my very limited flower identification abilities to say unequivocally which one this is. The Common Speedwell often seems to be found growing closely with Scarlet Pimpernell, which this one was, so maybe that is what it is. Whichever one it is, it was another tiny gem that I wanted to include just because it is so beautiful.

The Field Forget-me-not Myosotis arvensis is another tiny splash of colour than can easily be missed amongst the bigger brighter plants but its delicate shade of blue combined with the splash of yellow and white is a true delight. The story behind its somewhat unusual name is that one day a knight and his lady were walking along a river bank. The knight bent over to pick some flowers for his lady love but the weight of his armour caused him to lose his balance and fall into the river! As he was drowning, he threw the flowers to the river bank and called 'forget me not!' Since that time this flower has been associated with true love.

If when reading this posting you can confirm or correct any of my very amature plant identifications, please feel free to leave feedback in the comments section at the end of the posting. (You don't have to register or sign in or anything!) Thanks.

Photo Credits - CJT

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